Gamedev Grievances #8: Circular Reasoning

Lately I’ve been thinking hard about one of the more fundamental aspects of Ambience. Not really programming, spriting or composing much – just thinking. It might also be something that others have wondered about, too:

Why, oh why, are the main characters of Ambience all circles?

Did I mention Ambience has a basic item storage system? Well, now you know.
Circles… circles everywhere.

Of course, one of the reasons why that’s so is because Ambience is a follow-up of the first game I ever made with GameMaker – a small dungeon-crawler entitled “The Man”, in which the protagonist and enemies were all circles. But, as nice as it may be to reflect on that first-ever project of mine, I’m wondering whether it’s worth keeping that circular character design for Ambience. After all, some people might look at those graphics and think that the character designs are just lazy, and then decide on that basis to go try some other, nicer-looking indie game instead.

This of course has led me to the possibility of making the characters more human-looking. One big advantage of this is that it would allow me to make the characters much more in-depth and memorable. It opens up the opportunity for distinctive clothes, hairstyles, and even a better distinction between male and female characters.

But then we really get to the root of the problem here. See, I’m a coder and composer, and not a sprite artist, so pixel art really isn’t my biggest strength. Moreover, making the switch to humanoid characters will require a lot of time investment – not just because I’d have to remake all the character sprites and mugshots, but I’d also have to re-code the way that the game deals with holding and swinging weapons, too. That’s something I’m not entirely sure how I’d implement, given the current systems I’ve got in place.

So ultimately, if I do take the plunge, it could actually result in the characters looking worse, not better.

The alternative to making a whole new set of sprites would be to change the writing so that the game actually explains why the characters are circular (or more correctly, spherical). It could be that the characters aren’t actually human at all, but “Beings of Ambience”, which are not humanoid in form, but spherical.

Why would that be? Well, I’ve considered a few possibilities. In particular, coming from a very science-y background, it could have something to do with the Ambient energy that such Beings store within:

You see this equation? That’s the power at which energy is radiated from an Ambient body. The larger the surface area of the body, the more energy that’s radiated. Now, consider this. The shape which has the least surface area per unit volume… is a sphere. Did you ever realize that? It makes sense now, doesn’t it, why Beings of Ambience are spherical? Because spheres emit the least energy. All that Ambient energy isn’t emitted, but stored up instead. Now, I wonder… if a Being of Ambience could change its morphology… what would be the outcome? How much power could possibly be unleashed?

Well, I’m just free-writing now, but you get the idea.

Of course, that could make some think it’s just an excuse for lazy spriting… but when you’re not a sprite artist, and open-source quality sprites are scarce, there’s little else you can really do. (Besides hiring a sprite artist, of course, but that’s yet another issue.)

I think for now a good compromise might be to change up some of the character designs a little bit to make them more memorable, while keeping the overall spherical design. For example, Pontus could have a beard, Vulcan a scar on his face; perhaps the characters could also have head-hair? But it is a difficult problem – one of those “indie game dev problems” that doesn’t really have an easy solution. I guess I’ll keep on thinking…

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